It’s Wednesday and Parker Millsap is catching his breath.
The previous weekend, the Oklahoma-bred song stylist whose music is a rich blend of Americana essentials – namely, rock, country, blues and soul – was the guest of Chris Thile for a Saturday night broadcast of “Live From Here” at the Ravinia Festival, North of Chicago, where he and his band tore into a set of tunes from his new “Other Arrangements” album, highlighted by the Van Morrison-flavored “Your Water.” Roughly 18 hours later, he was at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee waiting for monsoon-level rains to subside in order to kickoff the final day of music on the festival’s main stage. His resulting set was subsequently named one of the “13 Best Things We Saw” by Cmt.com — a list that included Kentucky's own Sturgill Simpson.
But on a mid-week afternoon, Millsap is taking a momentary breather from a career that has won praise from the New York Times and the Boston Globe while making an avid (and very vocal) fan out of pop colossus Elton John.
“I’m just grateful to get to play music, to not have to do other things to make money and survive,” he said. “I don’t think I was aware of music even being an option until I was in my mid teens. As soon as I was aware of it being possible, I kind made it my whole mission and it’s worked out. I love to play music, to make records, to travel the world. It’s all I could have hoped for, really.”
Millsap introduced himself nationally in 2012 with “Palisade,” the first of his four independently released albums. But it was the third record, “The Very Last Day,” that brought him to Lexington as opening act for a two-night stand at the Singletary Center for the Arts for Old Crow Medicine Show. At the time, Millsap’s music was more rustic and folkish, an impression underscored by the solo setting he played in. “Other Arrangements” brought the electricity and a band to broaden his rootsy musical scope, his performance possibilities and, ultimately, his audience appeal.
“A lot of it comes down to the live shows, since that’s what I’m doing most of the time," Millsap said. "These songs were really written to played live and I love playing them with my band. I feel like they really translate from the record to an in-the-flesh spirit.
“For me, that means something catchy, shorter and louder than songs I’ve written in the past. I was definitely trying to write what I think of as pop songs for the record, whereas on previous records, the songs were more singer-songwriter-ey or just focused more on storytelling. On this record, I really focus more on just simple pop songs.”
Simple? Works like “Your Water,” “Fine Line” and the country-soul leaning title tune to “Other Arrangements” are no more simplistic in their make-up than they are representative of contemporary pop. What Millsap creates on the new album is music that doesn’t stay put. While it steers away from the occasional folkie flavor of earlier albums, it also refuses to anchor itself in new turf that will in any way seem stagnant.
“I try not to make a record that sounds same-ey, you know what I mean?" he said. "Sometimes, I’m disappointed when I know an artist is capable of doing a wide range of things, but then I hear their record and it’s only one sound through the whole album. I really like records to reach all over the map, like with Beatles records or even John Prine’s records. A lot of the production of his records may seem like singer-songwriter stuff, but it reaches toward rock and zydeco — all kinds of places.”
While Millsap’s songs may define his recordings, what drives his performance approach is his singing — from the primal folk-blues influences he revealed at the 2016 Singletary shows to the kind of pop-soul testimony that fortifies his current concerts.
You might suppose, then, that Millsap was raised around music all his life. Guess again. He was raised in the Pentecostal faith and didn’t discover popular music until his teens.
“I think I’ll have a lot of questions about all that for awhile," he said. "But I don’t harbor any sort of ill will towards the church. I still have plenty of questions, but I’m fully aware I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for that experience.
“When I was 13, I kind of became aware of concerts," Millsap said. "I got to go see Eric Clapton. My parents took me to see him, but I didn’t go to, like, shows growing up. I wasn’t super aware of the Oklahoma music history until my late teenage years — guys like JJ Cale, Leon Russell and Charlie Christian.
“From there, I got used to having spiritual experiences with music. I yearn for that experience. I don’t really go to church anymore, so music has been an essential part of my being. I feel like the joy of making music certainly thrills me.”
If you go
When: 9 p.m. June 24
Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Road
Tickets: $15, $18